Review: NewsGator Online Makes RSS Reading Simple, But Irritating
My day revolves around web-based RSS readers. Google Reader, Bloglines Beta, NewsGator...you name it, I've tried it. Unfortunately those services aren't conveniently rendered on iPhone's 3.5" display, and require lots of pinching, jiggering, and side-scrolling to view content. Adding to that frustration, Safari tends to choke on AJAX code which these online readers employ heavily - crashing the browser and dumping you back to the home screen.
Enter Newsgator Online for mobile users; a service designed for small screens with low overhead.
The biggest drawing card that NewsGator Online has in its favor is that it allows you to access your standard RSS feed list without any changes. No importing of OPML files, no creating special "mobile feed" list. Nothing. If you already have a NewsGator account (signup is free), just point your browser to m.newsgator.com and login to your account. Doing that will automagically kick you to NewsGator's mobile web-based reader, specially formatted for iPhone. As as I said, the beauty here is that no special privileges or footwork are required to use this service. Your list of feeds is staring right back at you, ready to be tapped. To view a feed simply select it, and the interface will then drill down to a page containing the entries in that feed, displayed almost exactly as it appears on the desktop version.
So far so good, right? Well not quite. Unfortunately the service falls apart at this point. Let's start with the issue of feed management. I have roughly two hundred feeds in my OPML list. NewsGator Online makes accessing those feeds almost intolerable. My feeds are categorized in folders I labeled for specific topics, like Mobile news, Mac, Windows, etc. All of these folders displayed properly on the iPhone, but they're open at the same time, displaying all 200+ feeds on one screen! If I want to view feeds that appear at the bottom of the list, I have to scroll scroll scroll to get to them.
When I first made that discovery my immediate reaction to this was..."no, this can't be right. I must be doing something wrong. There has to be an option to check off, surely." Nope, that's how the wheel spins, boss. NewsGator desperately needs to offer a way to collapse folders to free up screen real estate, and liberate my sanity. The tragedy is that if you look beyond that montrous shortcoming the remaining experience works slick as a greased doorknob. After you've strained your thumb scolling down your feed list, and made a selection, an animated page transition takes place, transporting you to that feed and its entries. The entries themselves are truncated, or abbreviated. If you want to view more, just tap on the "More" link appearing at the bottom of each post, which then expands the entry to its full content including photos (if available).
Once you've finished reading your feed of choice, hit the browser's back button to take you back to your soaring feed list. Here again another snag presents itself. In theory doing this should take you back to the last point of departure; to the spot in your feed list that was last viewed. Not quite. This works a bit unpredictably at times. Sometimes it works, but other times you may be taken back to the top of the list, again forcing thumb strained scrolling to get back. Not good.
So my overall impression of NewsGator Online is mixed. I love the convenience it affords by offering universal access to my RSS feeds, be it from a desktop or iPhone. But the experienced is muddied by lamentably inferior feed management and unpredictable browser behavior. Still, I would recommend this service to my readers, provided you are willing to tolerate its shortcomings and perhaps bypass them altogether by creating a smaller feed list with just the essentials - thereby shortening the load. Of course, doing that kind of defeats the whole purpose, doesn't it?
In the meantime, my advice to the folks at NewsGator is to keep working, you'll get there eventually.